Newcastle. West Ham. Crystal Palace. Wolves. And now Fulham.
Five times this season Tottenham Hotspur have conceded late equalisers after sitting on a lead. Five times those equalisers have come in games that Jose Mourinho’s side should have had wrapped up.
It doesn’t take a mathematical mastermind to work out that those results mean 10 dropped points, yet Spurs are currently just six points off the top of the Premier League. It’s not a stretch to say that this blind spot in Mourinho’s strategy is denying his team a title challenge.
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The dramatic 3-3 draw with West Ham was something of an anomaly, but the other four matches in that sequence have all seen Spurs hold a one-goal advantage and sit deeper and deeper as the game went on before finally being punished.
Mourinho claims he is not instructing his players to sit on a lead in such fashion. And maybe he isn’t. But the evidence would suggest otherwise.
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In the second half against Fulham on Wednesday night, the two outfield players on either side with the fewest touches were Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son. That tells you that Spurs’ attacking threat had all-but dried up.
Speaking after the game Mourinho again said that his team did enough to win the game, saying:
We were not good enough, but good enough to win. We have to play better and in a more consistent way, but we were good enough to create four or five big chances, good enough to give Hugo (Lloris) a very quiet evening, and good enough to win the game. But not good enough because we have to play better than we did.
That is an interview answer that makes about as much sense as Spurs’ second-half strategy.
A defence not suited to the style
It should come as no surprise that Mourinho's preference is to set a side up in this way. He utilised this approach to great effect at Porto and during his first stint at Chelsea. He did the same thing at Inter Milan and Real Madrid, and he also tried it (with less success) when he returned to the Premier League at both Chelsea and Manchester United.
So it is not exactly a shock that this is his plan at Spurs, particularly given that he has a crop of attacking players perfectly suited to picking teams off on the counter-attack.
The problem is that the successful teams of the first-half of Mourinho's career all had world-class defenders. On Wednesday night, Spurs had a back four of Serge Aurier, Davinson Sanchez, Eric Dier and Sergio Reguilon. And while those are four decent players, it is not a defence that screams solidity.
For the Fulham equaliser Sanchez was beaten by Ademola Lookman, an error that was compounded by Eric Dier switching off and allowing Ivan Cavaleiro to drift into space behind him for the header. Neither were defensive howlers, but both were mistakes that Tottenham fans (and Mourinho) will have seen the same players make before.
After the game the Spurs manager went close to throwing his centre-backs under the bus, saying: "There are some things they have to do with organisation of the team, but other things they have to do with individual skills, individual ability, and it’s as simple as that."
But by now Mourinho should know that his centre-backs are not world-class. Building a team strategy that relies on world-class performances from central defenders is a folly given the players he has available.
And it is this lack of flexibility, a trait that Mourinho also displayed at Old Trafford, that made many feel he was a risk when Tottenham appointed him 15 months ago. This approach might be enough for a cup run here and there, but it doesn't look like being the right one for Spurs across a full league campaign.
Mourinho’s response to the equaliser also raises concerns
On this occasion the Fulham equaliser at least came a little earlier, offering Mourinho an opportunity to rescue the game.
But his response left a lot to be desired, adding to growing concerns that he does not have a cohesive plan when reacting to such a familiar scenario.
On came striker Carlos Vinicius on 81 minutes for a rare Premier League appearance, and in some ways it was an addition that made sense given that Spurs had created plenty through crosses into the box.
However, the problem was who Vinicius came on for.
Tanguy Ndombele of Tottenham Hotspur
Image credit: Getty Images
With Harry Winks already off the field and substitute Erik Lamela strangely posted out on the right in an ineffective role, it was the exceptional Tanguy Ndombele who was withdrawn for Vinicius. That change took away the player who had looked most likely to create chances all night for Spurs, and removed the last creative force in central areas from the Spurs side.
Perhaps Ndombele was tired, he certainly looked it (although his languid body language means he often does). But even if he was flagging in the second half, he still created the best chance with a delicious through-ball for Son, and Spurs’ creativity in central areas dried up completely when he was withdrawn.
It was a strange decision to remove him from Mourinho, even more so given that Dele Alli – the Spurs player most similar to Ndombele in terms of being able to create those opportunities – remained unused on the bench alongside Gareth Bale, despite Mourinho having one more change available to him.
Spurs remain just six points off the top and played some of their best football in weeks at times during the game on Wednesday night. But time after time points are being dropped in games that Mourinho’s team should have had wrapped up.
Jose should have learnt his lesson by now. How many more times must this happen before he changes his strategy?
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